Andy was jerked backwards, his hip banging against the transom. Johnny reached out for him but it was too late. Andy lurched overboard, his hand trapped in the wire. Morgan heard his scream, heard it stifled as he was dragged under, saw him moving quickly through two feet of water, three, four, five, saw him turning back toward the light, trying to swim one-handed toward the surface, a useless stroke against the horrific power of that fish. She saw his face, his blond hair pulsing like a jellyfish around his head, she saw his white flesh turning blue, blue as the water, blue as the fish.
"Reel, Morgan! Reel, goddamn it!" A.J. was screaming.
A second later he was beside her. He tore the rod from her hands, cranked the fish back up, cranked. But the line continued to unspool, the sharp ratchet of the reel clicking faster than she'd ever heard it.
A.J. heaved back on the rod, tightening the drag as he did, pulling with all his weight, all his life and breath and muscle.
Morgan couldn't scream, couldn't breathe. A dull paralysis had taken hold of her. Shock and terror and utter exhaustion.
She rose from the fighting chair, watched the water, saw a flash of white. Andy's face, his shorts, something. Down in all that blue, his body dragged deeper and deeper into the airless depths. A bear hug crushed her chest, a pressure greater than bones and flesh could possibly withstand.
Her father was groaning as he reeled against the power of that fish, winning back a few feet, a few more. Johnny dropped to his knees, holding to the transom as if he were seasick, peering out at the water.
From the flybridge Darlene screamed. Her boy, her precious son. Her wail ripped apart the air.
And then the crack of a rifle shot as the heavy monofilament snapped.
Her father crashed against the side of the chair and crumpled to the deck.
Without a thought, Morgan kicked off her boat shoes, climbed onto the transom and dove into the water and clawed her way down into the blue. She swam deeper and deeper until the light was flickering in her head and the crushing pressure against her chest was unbearable, then swam deeper still, squinting into the blurry distance, into the blackwater depths where the sounding fish had disappeared, but she could make out nothing in the darkness of the cold currents.
Then out of those murky depths a trail of bubbles rose toward her, a ghostly silver cloud climbing fast, spreading out, surrounding her, tickling across her bare arms, her belly.
Andy Braswell's last breath. Her brother. Her love.
Copyright 2002 by James W. Hall. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, St Martins Press.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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